What Are the Parts of a Card Catalog?

Everything you need to know about what fills the shelves of the library is stored within the card catalog. With all its decimals, numbers and letters, it can be a bit confusing to maneuver at first glance. The card catalog classification system is well established as one of the most orderly systems for a mass amount of information that can quickly and easily be retrieved by everyone from children to professionals.

Card Catalog History

Since the card catalog is an exacting system, its history is also recorded to the month of its birth. In November of 1789 all religious texts in houses across France were seized by the reigning government to create a concise catalog of available resources for public consumption. This system of public libraries eventually brought about the French Cataloging Code of 1791. The bibliographic information of each book was noted on the blank back of playing cards and added to the growing inventory of publicly available books.

Bibliographic information includes the title, author, publishing date and possibly place of publication, page numbers and other details to assist a researcher in hunting down the correct book for their needs. This process skipped across the pond in the mid-1800s when Harvard College Librarian Thaddeus William Harris saw the need to expand on the process to better order the massive and growing collection of books and essays. By 1886, Melvil Dewey began marketing card catalog cabinets. The introduction of the typewriter in the early 1900s brought a standard form to library catalogs around the world. Card sizes were standardized at 12.5 x 7.5 cm, and books began to come with pre-printed cards for librarians to slip into their existing catalog to further conform the catalog system.

Different Types of Card Catalogs

There are many ways a card catalog can be organized. The DDC and ISBN can assist with finding a book in any catalog system. The main types include author, subject and title. An author system lists books alphabetically by author. The subject catalog sorts its inventory by subject and a librarian can assist with understanding the system if it is highly refined. The title catalog sorts its books, essays and other publications alphabetically by title and is a formal catalog.

Card Basics

The card itself is laid out with the facts in particular order. The book author’s name is at the top of each card catalog entry. When no author is available, the institution, organization or company that created the book is listed. The title is next unless the card catalog is organized by an index of titles. Titles are generally put in quotes. The subject follows the title. This section can hold anywhere from three to five subjects that best describe the book’s intention. This section assists the researcher in better understanding if the title will help them in their quest.

The date of publication and publisher is included followed by the International Standard Book Number, ISBN, to allow for further indexing. The Dewey Decimal Classification assists the library in its arrangement of books by specific categories. The DDC is typically listed on the card’s top left corner for quick indexing and cross-referencing.